This is the first in a weekly series of posts connecting Spielberg’s Lincoln to President Lincoln’s Cottage.
If anyone could distract President Lincoln from the constant pressures of the Civil War, it was his son Thomas “Tad” Lincoln. Just nine years old when the Lincolns first moved into the Cottage, Tad provided his father an outlet from a world of constant bloodshed. It is difficult to imagine being president during the Civil War, but it is equally as difficult to imagine being a child in the middle of what some historians refer to as the Second American Revolution. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln gives us a glimpse into the world that Tad created during the United States’ bloodiest conflict.
One of the most striking scenes from the movie reveals a father’s intimate relationship with his youngest son. Tad was known to ride his father’s shoulders around the White House as part of game, but in this brief yet touching scene we see Tad scramble up on his father’s back to be carried to bed. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this scene is how mundane and routine it seems. You can imagine the very same thing happening in front of the Lincoln’s drawing room fireplace at their summer cottage.
The loss of his brother Willie was monumental to Tad. More than a brother, he lost a best friend and playmate. With his oldest brother Robert away at college, his father occupied with secession and slavery, and his mother distracted by her incredible grief from Willie’s death, the Bucktail soldiers provided Tad friendship at the Cottage. He would often head outside to drill with the soldiers on his pony. Eventually the troops, so enamored with Tad, awarded him the honorary position of “3rd Lieutenant.”
The Lincoln family kept a wide array of animals at their home in Springfield, and did not change their ways after the move to Washington. With plenty of space, the Old Soldiers’ Home featured some of the most interesting of the Lincolns’ animals. Among these curiosities were peacocks.
Pets often provide companionship and lessons in responsibility for children, but the Lincolns’ peacocks provide us a bit of a laugh. The Lincolns’ flock of peacocks resided on the Soldiers’ Home campus. To keep them flying away, the soldiers from Company K tied one end of a string to the peacock’s feet and the other to a stick. This allowed the birds the ability to roost in the nearby trees, but provided enough weight to prevent them from flying away. If you happened to arrive at the Soldiers’ Home on one particular summer night, you might have caught sight of the President of the United States of America and his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, climbing a tree to untangle a number of Tad’s peacocks from the cedar trees.
In Lincoln, we can imagine what it may have been like to be first-child during the Civil War. While residing at their summer home, the Lincoln family enjoyed greater privacy and more space to spend time together as they wished.
-Zach Siegel, Interpreter at President Lincoln’s Cottage